April 11, 2020
By Murtuza Merchant
Even while the world still grapples with the impaetavct of the COVID-19 pandemic, crypto fans and investors alike are going gung-ho about the Metaverse like it is the biggest social disruption that humankind has ever seen.
While the term ‘metaverse’ is used to describe any virtual world where humans can socialize, it is being loosely applied to any project that involves virtual reality (VR), gaming or even non-fungible tokens (NFTs). With market experts hypothesizing that the metaverse will eventually expand into a multi-trillion-dollar industry, there is a barrage of companies trying to squeeze every bit of investor interest, and money, by applying the ‘metaverse’ tag to their product portfolio.
When Facebook rebranded itself as Meta, signalling its move to focus on virtual worlds, sales for its Quest 2 VR headsets went through the roof. By its own admission, however, the company acknowledges that the metaverse will need to incorporate much more than VR wearables to include augmented reality (AR), machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and of course, VR. Yet, there are many who still question how much time will people really want to spend in a virtual world and will the metaverse really be a safe place for humans to socialize.
Aliasgar Merchant, developer relations engineer at Ignite (formerly Tendermint) says, “In a metaverse, you can be anyone you want to be, and that might create security concerns. For example, people with malicious intent can use your identity for illegal activities and this draws attention to the problem of proving one’s identity, as bots can easily mimic your style, data, and even personality.”
He says Metaverse would require different verification methods like facial scans, retina scans, voice recognition for authentication and this will make the hardware necessary to access the Metaverse both bulky and expensive. “This will make it unaffordable for the general populace and inhibit its widespread adoption,” he says.
Merchant adds that another challenge will be the social aspect as users might drift apart from the real world, their friends and family in favour of spending more time in the virtual world. This risk of addiction could lead to isolation and loneliness, eventually having a negative impact on their professional or academic lives.
The Metaverse may not be limited to gaming and could morph into an online marketplace connecting billions of users around the world, making it necessary for every platform to interoperate with other blockchains and facilitate quick, effortless exchanging of different cryptocurrencies while ensuring all transactions are secure. This financial risk along with the social and mental health risks needs to be addressed before we go on an expansion spree with the metaverse.
Talking about the ramifications of the potential threats posed by the unfettered expansion of the metaverse, Pratik Gauri, founder and chief executive at blockchain firm 5ire said one of the main issues that will occur in the Metaverse, and one that we do not face in the real world, is that of identity.
“As it stands, identity theft is already a big issue, and proving one’s identity or building a reputation will be a big challenge. The elements that makeup one’s identity will be a complicated issue to resolve, and most importantly, how do you even prove that you are who you are, instead of another person or even a bot trying to mimic your existence?” he asks.
He says this is where reputation can play an important role not only in terms of authentication but also as proof that the digital entity one is interacting with is trustworthy and legitimate. “Then there is the additional issue of the legal framework being flexible enough to apply to a virtual world. In terms of crypto and NFT, it has been relatively easy to resolve because of blockchain and its ability to record immutable ownership. But when it comes to legal rights and enforcement, that really is another challenge altogether.”
Moving beyond cost concerns or the prevention of identity theft, the community building the metaverse is posed with the biggest challenge of how to regulate these virtual spaces. With a rapidly growing consumer base that is not only participating in the metaverse but also investing a sizeable portion of their disposable income in it, this regulatory concern can be the potential death knell for this rising virtual space.
Rahat Beri, founder and chief executive of crypto advisory firm Acryptoverse, says the Metaverse is clearly creating all sorts of noises today and one cannot deny it is here to stay, judging from the speed with which the Gen Z population is getting hooked to it with every passing day.
“However, there is a set of voices, primarily of critics – who think the metaverse is merely another hyped-up scenario and believe that, like with every industry, the metaverse too will have to surmount the primary challenge of maintaining user privacy and guaranteeing an individual’s safety. Many incidents of women complaining about acts of sexual misconduct have already made this concern loud and clear. Free speech is another and the lack of regulations that are supposed to preserve this fundamental right in the metaverse can lead to its undoing,” she says.
Beri adds these problems are accentuated by the fact that many companies are getting into the Metaverse. Anyone and everyone can join this virtual space without much safety or security-related checks, and ensuring a balanced community and the administration of it is something every stakeholder of the Metaverse needs to pay urgent attention to.
“Undoubtedly, law enforcement agencies and governments across the world will need to sit down and ensure these concerns are allayed with adequate measures implemented at the earliest,” Beri says.
It seems the metaverse is here to stay. While its fans will have plenty of fodder to continue espousing its merits, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the critical issues plaguing the metaverse.
About the author
Murtuza Merchant is a senior journalist and an avid follower of blockchain and cryptocurrencies